Nabokov denied that his novel was inspired by the famous 1948 case, but this literary detective work reveals many parallels
In March 1948, 11-year-old Sally Horner stole a five-cent notebook from Woolworths in Camden, New Jersey. It was a dare by her school friends and out of character. This minor misdemeanour would change her life for ever. As Sally, described by a teacher as “a perfectly lovely girl”, was leaving the store, a “slender, hawk-faced man” with cold, blue-grey eyes and a scar on his cheek grabbed her by the arm. Claiming to be with the FBI, he said he saw her stealing but would let her go if she agreed to report to him occasionally.
Terrified by this brush with the law, Sally tried to put the experience behind her. But in June, as she was walking home from school, the man reappeared. He told her the government wanted her to go with him to Atlantic City. If she refused she would be sent to the reformatory. Sally believed he was an FBI agent: “she felt his power and feared it, even though it was false”.